At her re-election campaign launch Thursday morning, two-term incumbent Kshama Sawant said she wouldn’t participate in the city's Democracy Voucher program. How could a socialist turn her back on such a democratic campaign finance system? In short, because she thinks her city council race is going to get pricey.
In a statement explaining her decision, Sawant said: “The Democracy Voucher program is a progressive step forward, but unfortunately it’s not designed for a race like ours where Amazon and the whole big business establishment is united against us. It does not prevent corporate PACs from overnight dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race to try to buy the election.”
The three other candidates in the race so far—Beto Yarce, Pat Murakami, and Logan Bowers—all say they plan to participate in the voucher program.
Democracy vouchers cap campaign spending at $75,000 in the primary and $150,000 total. But if a candidate shows that their opponent has spent/received contributions over the limit—or that a bunch of independent expenditures have dumped more than $150,000 onto their candidate of choice—that candidate can file an appeal and be released from the program's financial constraints. This happened a couple of times in the 2017 city council races.
Sawant raised much more than the Democracy Voucher limit in her reelection race against Banks in 2015. Sawant outraised Banks by over $75,000—$463,998 to $388,520—but had nearly triple the number of individual donors. Most (40 percent) of those contributions came from outside Seattle, and 20 percent came from her own district. (However, 72 more donors inside Seattle supported Sawant over Banks.) Vulcan, a steel company, realtors, the restaurant association, and the Chamber of Commerce all supported Banks and snubbed Sawant.
Independent expenditures gave Banks over $39,000 in the last cycle. CASE, which is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, gave Banks $10,461. Neighbors for Banks, whose top contributors include people who work at investment firms and developers, gave $19,245. And The Hospitality PAC, whose top contributors are restaurant and hotel companies, gave $9,500. Sawant took in $26,613 from independent expenditures, the bulk that coming from ProgressiveSeattlePAC, which is funded by a bunch of unions.
Though independent expenditures didn’t spend TONS of money in 2015, Sawant is probably right that big businesses are going to fund her most viable opponent the second that person emerges. They’ve gotten involved in the D3 races before, and after their head tax victory they’re more likely to do it again. She’s so cynical about the possibility of big corporations sitting this one out—and why shouldn’t she be?—that she’s dispensing with any pretense of democratic holiness conveyed by participating in the program, and hoping her supporters trust that the contributions to her campaign aren’t going to be coming from Amazon. That said, we can't be totally sure that her party, Socialist Alternative, isn't swimming in that big tech money. So let's see those books!